Press Picks

november 20
Cirque du Soleil presents Quidam Forget everything you know about the circus. Cirque du Soleil is more than a glitzy flash of high-wire acts and mistreated tigers. This French-Canadian circus has soul, and it actually tells a story. Quidam is the tale of a young girl who suffers existential angst powerful enough to shatter her world, and ends up in the universe of Quidam. Peopled by amazing acrobats and actors who twirl in hoops above the stage, skip rope in syncopated time, dance with long ropes of silk, juggle disappearing balls and more, this surreal world will explode your expectations of a circus. The Toronto Star called the show "pure art"; Time magazine said Cirque du Soleil "makes the incredible visible." Thru Dec. 21. Opens tonight at 8 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Astrodome Parking Lot, 8400 Kirby, $20-$48.25, adults; $10 $33.75, children.

Black Nativity Langston Hughes's holiday play is full of pantomime, gospel songs and folk spirituals, all incorporated into the homely story of Christ's birth. Audience participation is encouraged -- and isn't Christmas the time to sing long and loud and be happy about it? The Ensemble Theatre has imported Jesse Wooden Jr., the New Yorker who directed last year's Obie award-winning production of Black Nativity. Tonight's preview performance is also a fundraiser for Community Partners Advocates, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical care, health education and social services to disadvantaged inner-city kids. 6 p.m. cocktail reception; 7:30 p.m. performance. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 222-8788. $60, patron; $100, sponsor.

HSPVA Fall Jazz Festival Is there anything swanker than a few liquid jazz notes floating across the dark mysteries of a November night? The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts' music department has been making jazz magic since the school's inception over a quarter-century ago. And tonight, 45 current students play the 21st Fall Jazz Festival. Hear them and feel utterly cool all night long. 7:30 p.m. High School for the Performing and Visual Arts' Denny Theatre, 4001 Stanford, 942-1967, 942-1960. $6.

november 21
Strake Hall of Malacology The most startling and beautiful image from last year's film Microcosmos had to be the two snails locked in an amorphous embrace more sensual and passionate than any song on the last five Barry White albums. Who would have thought they had it in 'em? At the Museum of Natural Science's new pride and joy, learn more about the amazing world of mollusks. Find out about oysters, squids and slugs; see live cuttlefish and giant clams; and experience a load of oddities including a left-handed whelk and the world's largest known snail shell. The hall is open to the public for the first time today, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, located in Hermann Park across from Miller Outdoor Theatre, 639-IMAX. $3, adults; $2, children.

Dominick Dunne Dunne calls his newest book, Another City, Not My Own, a "novel in the form of a memoir." But some critics aren't buying the idea that he has refashioned his Vanity Fair reporting on the O.J. trial, transforming it into a "novel." The central character, Augustus Bailey, is an awful lot like Dunne himself. Like Dunne, Bailey is drawn to murder trials because of his personal experience. And like Dunne, Bailey knows a lot of rich and famous folks, who wine and dine him throughout the book. Hear him read and have him sign your copy tonight -- and make sure he signs your copy with his real name. 7 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, 523-0701. Free. (Dunne will sign only books bought at Brazos.)

French Film Festival This week, the French Embassy and the Museum of Fine Arts celebrate the work of director Agnes Varda, whose early films ushered in the French New Wave. Her career has spanned over 40 years, and includes both fictional and documentary films -- intelligent, irreverent, sometimes very funny and always passionate and engaging. For this festival, Varda herself chose her best work. Tonight's first offering is the 22-minute Uncle Yanco, a portrait of Jean Varda (the director's uncle) that chronicles the days and nights of the Greece-born painter, who lived on a houseboat and flourished in 1960s Haight Ashbury. Also see The Young Girls Turn 25, a documentary about filmmaking and the folks involved. And last on the program, there's Cleo from 5 to 7, which follows a beautiful pop singer through the two hours she waits to find out whether she has cancer. Even a tough American could love these unsentimental looks at the psyche. 7 p.m., Uncle Yanco and The Young Girls Turn 25; 9:15 p.m., Cleo from 5 to 7. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 for all three films.